Lesson 4: Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Planes

Unplugged | Algorithms | facilitating discussion


In this lesson, students will relate the concept of algorithms back to everyday activities. After discussing their steps, students will make paper planes using an algorithm. The goal here is to start building the skills to translate real world situations to online scenarios and vice versa.


This lesson exists to help students see that an "algorithm" is just a list of steps that someone can take to finish a task. Students will also learn that the order of the individual steps can make a difference in the final product. This should help lay a foundation of understanding for arranging blocks into programs.


Warm Up (15 min)

Main Activity (20 min)

Wrap Up (15 min)

Assessment (15 min)

Extended Learning

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Students will be able to:

  • Decompose large activities into a series of smaller events.
  • Organize sequential events into their logical order.


  • Watch the Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Planes - Lesson in Action Video.
  • Gather paper for students to construct paper airplanes from.
  • Print out Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Planes - Worksheet for each student.
  • Print Daily Algorithms - Assessment for each student.
  • Make sure every student has a Think Spot Journal.


Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Teacher

For the Students


  • Algorithm - A list of steps to finish a task.


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Teaching Guide

Warm Up (15 min)

This warm-up will help your students get perspective on what it means to create a list of steps to finish a task.

Prompt: Ask your students what they did to get ready for school this morning.

Discuss: Write their answers on the board. If possible, put numbers next to their responses to indicate the order that they happen. If students give responses out of order, have them help you put them in some kind of logical order, pointing out places where order matters and places where it doesn't.

Say: Introduce students to the idea that it is possible to create algorithms for the things that we do everyday. Give them a couple of examples, such as making breakfast, brushing teeth, and planting a flower.

Main Activity (20 min)

Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Planes - Worksheet

You can use algorithms to help describe things that people do every day. In this activity, we will create an algorithm to help students fold a paper plane.

Lesson Tip

If you think it will be too difficult for your students to decide which steps are correct, do that piece together as a class before you break up into pairs.

Pair: Have students pair up with an elbow partner to cut the individual steps apart. They should discuss among themselves which six are needed and which three can be recycled.

Distribute: Hand out some blank paper (or the back of other papers) for students to glue/tape their instructions to once they've decided on the order. Make sure they have a second peice that they can actually fold into the final plane.

Lesson Tip

If you are concerned about injury when your students begin flying their paper planes, we recommend having them blunt the tip of the plane by either folding it inward or ripping it off and covering the ripped edges with tape.

Share: Finally, have students trade their finished algorithms with another pair and have them use one another's algorithms to make a paper plane.

Circulate: Walk around during the activity and check that students are trying to debug mistakes. If they get stuck, have them check-in with the group who originally coded their algorithm and see if they can work together to fix it.

Discuss: What did we learn?

  • How many of you were able to follow your classmates' algorithms to make your planes?
  • Did we leave anything out when making the plane?
    • What would you have added to make the algorithm even better?
    • What if the algorithm had been only one step: "Fold a Paper Plane"?
      • Would it have been easier or harder?
    • What if it were forty steps?
  • What was your favorite part about this activity?

Wrap Up (15 min)


Having students write about what they learned, why it’s useful, and how they feel about it can help solidify any knowledge they obtained today and build a review sheet for them to look to in the future.

Journal Prompts:

  • What was today’s lesson about?
  • How did you feel during today’s lesson?
  • Can you imagine an algorithm for building a real plane? What do you think that would look like?
  • Write out an algorithm that would take you from your desk to the front of the class.

Assessment (15 min)

Daily Algorithms - Assessment

  • Hand out the Daily Algorithms - Assessment and allow students to complete the activity independently after the instructions have been well explained.
  • This should feel familiar, thanks to the previous activities.

Extended Learning

Use these activities to enhance student learning. They can be used as outside of class activities or other enrichment.

Go Figure

  • Break the class up into teams.
  • Have each team come up with several steps that they can think of to complete a task.
  • Gather teams back together into one big group and have one team share their steps, without letting anyone know what the activity was that they had chosen.
  • Allow the rest of the class to try to guess what activity the algorithm is for.
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Student Instructions

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Student Instructions

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Student Instructions

Standards Alignment

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CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

AP - Algorithms & Programming
  • 1A-AP-08 - Model daily processes by creating and following algorithms (sets of step-by-step instructions) to complete tasks.
  • 1A-AP-09 - Model the way programs store and manipulate data by using numbers or other symbols to represent information.
  • 1A-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) the steps needed to solve a problem into a precise sequence of instructions.

Cross-curricular Opportunities

This list represents opportunities in this lesson to support standards in other content areas.

Common Core English Language Arts Standards

L - Language
  • 2.L.6 - Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using adjectives and adverbs to describe (e.g., When other kids are happy that makes me happy).
SL - Speaking & Listening
  • 2.SL.1 - Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
  • 2.SL.6 - Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.

Common Core Math Standards

G - Geometry
  • 2.G.3 - Partition circles and rectangles into two, three, or four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, thirds, half of, a third of, etc., and describe the whole as two halves, three thirds, four fourths. Recognize that equal shares of identic
MP - Math Practices
  • MP.1 - Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • MP.2 - Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • MP.3 - Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • MP.5 - Use appropriate tools strategically
  • MP.6 - Attend to precision
  • MP.7 - Look for and make use of structure
  • MP.8 - Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Next Generation Science Standards

ETS - Engineering in the Sciences
ETS1 - Engineering Design
  • K-2-ETS1-1 - Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
  • K-2-ETS1-2 - Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
  • K-2-ETS1-3 - Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.